It's a Twitter headline that might as well have come from the Iran Inquirer: “Iranian officials, who have always maintained that their nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes, not weapons, expressed fury and vowed revenge over the assassination, calling it an act of terrorism and warmongering."
Perhaps it would be wise, as one of the world’s most-read publications, for the New York Times not to take Iranian officials at their word about their nuclear ambitions being entirely for peaceful purposes without a hint of scrutiny. After all, the U.S. State Department has for years designated the regime as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran's ruling mullahs' PR team couldn't have written a better headline.
The Times is, of course, the same newspaper that gave us this obituary about one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, calling him a “Master of Iran’s Intrigue" in building “a Shiite Axis of Power in (the) Mideast" in January after a U.S. airstrike took him out at Baghdad International Airport.
No mention in the headline about him being behind the killing and maiming of hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq.
It all brings back memories of the Washington Post, which initially mourned the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi this way: "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48." In that same obit, the Post shared that al-Baghdadi played soccer as a child when he wasn't visiting the local mosque. In a related story, ISIS was said to be responsible for the deaths of thousands, including many Americans and Muslims, in the most brutal manner – beheading, drowning and burning alive its victims – while becoming the most ruthless terror organization the modern world has seen.
The taking out of Iran's top nuclear scientist on Friday, reportedly carried out by Israeli forces, was met with criticism by former Obama deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, who called the assassination "an outrageous action aimed at undermining diplomacy between an incoming U.S. administration and Iran" and adding that "it’s time for this ceaseless escalation to stop."
You may recall that Rhodes was the salesman behind the Iran nuclear deal. The "salesman" moniker applies here because Rhodes once bragged about duping reporters on key elements of the deal while mocking journalists for being gullible and ill-informed. “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” Rhodes said to the New York Times Magazine in 2016. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”
Rhodes and his assistant, Ned Price, proceeded to boast about how the narrative around the unpopular Iran nuclear deal was relatively easy to establish with a press all too eager to believe what they were being told. "I’ll give [reporters] some color,” Price explained. "And the next thing I know, lots of these guys are in the dot-com publishing space, and have huge Twitter followings, and they’ll be putting this message out on their own.”
Over the extended Thanksgiving weekend, a top Iranian nuclear scientist was eliminated. So leave it to America’s “paper of record” to continue a disturbing trend of tucking away any scrutiny of Iran's nuclear ambitions by declaring them to be only for peaceful purposes. Yet, if there's any regime that doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt, it's the world's biggest state sponsor of terrorism.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.